Shale gas has the potential to meet all UK gas needs for 30 years, David Cameron said as he accused some opponents of fracking of being irrational and “religious” in their opposition.

The prime minister was appearing before the liaison committee of select committee chairs, where questions focused on the environment and women.

He told the committee he favoured individual households being paid compensation for the inconvenience of a gas well in their locality.

The government this week announced plans to allow local authorities to retain 100% of any business rates from shale gas developments, as part of a package to allay resistance to fracking. Local communities are also set to be offered £100,000 when a well is dug, along with 1% of revenues over its lifetime – potentially £7m-£10m.

Cameron said the government had yet to decide whether the cash boost announced this week should go to district or county councils.

He also revealed he was interested in ideas such as community trusts, as opposed to local councils, being set up to distribute cash from central government to local people. The idea of a community trust has been put forward by Cuadrilla, the oil and gas exploration company.

But he said he also favoured individual payments, arguing that “because of the disturbance in the early part of a well being dug, there should be cash payments to householders and I’m quite in favour of that … Actually saying to people ‘there’s going to be this small well drilling for shale gas and in order to make up for any inconvenience here is a cash payment’.”

Cameron’s prediction of 30 years of gas is based on the assumption that 7% of gas can be extracted from the Boland shale field in Lancashire, which, he told the MPs, was reasonable. His estimate is in part derived from figures provided by the British Geological Survey.

He said he was reluctant to forecast the likely cut in prices but said shale gas in America had led to a cut in gas prices of a third, prompting a return of jobs from abroad. He added he believed successful development could create 74,000 jobs.

Cameron told the MPs Britain would be making a great mistake if it did not support shale gas, adding some opponents were either irrational or religious, simply not wanting to see the introduction of another carbon-based fuel in the energy mix. He said although he understood concerns over issues such as planning and the size of plants, there were some who were opposing shale gas extraction purely because it is carbon-based.

“There are some people who are opposing shale because they simply can’t bear the thought of another carbon-based fuel being used in our energy mix. I think that is irrational because it’s surely better for us to be extracting shale safely from our country rather than paying a large price for it being imported from around the world.

“I think why some people are so religiously opposed to it is because they just don’t want to see any carbon-based energy work, but I don’t think that’s helpful.”

Cameron was also open about his disagreements with the Liberal Democrats about introducing a 2030 decarbonisation target for the power industry, saying he would not support such a target unless and until it is known whether carbon capture and storage is a technology that works. He said the Liberal Democrats took a different view and were more gung-ho about the technology.

But he insisted he had now set in place clear market signals across the energy market so all energy sectors knew what to expect. The one person that was undermining confidence in the energy market was one Ed Miliband, he said, referring to the Labour leader’s plans to impose a 20-month energy price freeze even though he could not effect the overall wholesale energy prices.

During questioning about women’s issues, Cameron said he would ensure that local authority-owned women’s refuges are exempted from the proposed housing benefit cap.

MPs on the committee said the welfare minister Lord Freud had failed to make this commitment over the past year.

Cameron admitted that the government had more to do to deal with female genital mutilation, a crime that has yet to be successfully prosecuted in the UK.

He told the committee a helpline set up by the NSPCC had received 132 calls, with 55 cases sent to the police. The Crown Prosecution Service is currently considering prosecuting six cases, he added.

The prime minister characterised the problem as one of victims being unwilling to come forward, rather than of institutional failure.

“My understanding is the problem is not that it’s not clear in the law, it is, not that the police don’t understand the importance of this – they do – not that CPS aren’t trained – they are. It is actually getting people to come forward and give evidence, that is the problem,” he said.

Patrick Wintour, The Guardian

This article first appeared in The Guardian

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